Marijuana use is on the rise among high school students, according to the 2017 Monitoring the Future report. While that may be alarming for parents, it’s a confusing time for teenagers in regards to the drug. The perception of marijuana is changing, thanks to several states legalizing the drug for adults.
As the national perception shifts, parents may face additional difficulties in getting teenagers to understand why marijuana use can be dangerous for them. What young people see as something that is increasingly legal for adults can have long-term effects on their brains. As Matthew J. Smith, a research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, told CNN in a story by Randye Hoder: “Adolescence is a sensitive time for brain development. If a teen introduces the abuse of marijuana at that point in their life, it could have consequences for their ability to problem solve, for their memory and for critical thinking in general.”
There is an abundance of other problems that using the drug can bring, including safety concerns — driving under the influence or riding with someone who is — and sexual behavior. And teens that are caught with marijuana may face legal issues that can haunt them for years.
Here’s a look at how marijuana is presenting challenges for parents and teens.
The Monitoring the Future survey — by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Michigan — included 47,703 students (8th, 10th and 12th graders) from 360 public and private schools, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Among the marijuana-related results, as reported by the NIDA:
- Of high school seniors, 71 percent “do not view regular marijuana smoking as being very harmful.” Yet 64.7 percent “say they disapprove of regular marijuana smoking.”
- Marijuana use has increased among high school seniors while cigarette use has decreased: “In its peak year (1997), daily cigarette use among 12th graders was 24.6 percent, compared to a rate of 4.2 percent in 2017. In its lowest year of use (1992), daily use of marijuana among 12th graders was 1.9 percent, compared to a rate of 5.9 percent in 2017.”
- 1 percent of 12th graders had used marijuana in the previous year, compared to smaller numbers for synthetic cannabinoids (3.7 percent), LSD (3.3), cocaine (2.7), MDMA (2.6), inhalants (1.5) and heroin (0.4).
As Nadia Kounang reported for CNN, the survey showed that the overall percentage of students who used marijuana in the past year increased by 1.3 percent from 2016, bringing the total to 24 percent.
“The increase in marijuana use was enough to boost the percentage of teens who used illicit drugs overall,” Kounang wrote. “This is the first time in seven years that there has been a statistically significant increase in marijuana use, said Richard Miech, lead author of the study and a research professor who studies drug use trends at the University of Michigan. … Miech said the increases in marijuana use aren’t surprising. ‘Typically, as adolescents see less risk of marijuana use, the prevalence (of use) increases,’ he said. ‘And today, levels of perceived risk from marijuana use are at the lowest levels we’ve ever seen in decades.’”
Talking with teens about marijuana
Parents will face numerous conversations with teens that can be difficult to get through. A talk about marijuana can be challenging because of the drug’s increasing acceptance, and relatively common use among teens. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids offers this advice for parents:
- Be open: “When a child feels judged or condemned, they will be less receptive to the message. Try to project objectivity and openness.”
- Stay calm: “Approaching the conversation with anger or panic will make it harder to achieve your goals.”
- Stay positive: “Approaching the situation with shame, anger or scare tactics will be counter-productive. Aim for curious, respectful and understanding.”
- Avoid lecturing: “It will most likely lead to shutting down, tuning you out, anger or worse.”
- Watch body language: “Finger-pointing and crossed arms are closed gestures, while uncrossed legs and a relaxed posture are more open.”
A story by Kurtis Hiatt for U.S. News & World Report advises parents to start early. The story featured Sharon Levy of Children’s Hospital Boston, who, as Hiatt wrote, “has seen a user who first tried drugs as an 8-year-old. ‘I want my message to be out ahead of the other messages they’re going to be getting,’ she says.”
Hiatt’s story emphasizes having a clear message about marijuana: “State your expectations simply and concisely. Don’t leave room for confusion. Say something like, ‘My expectation is that you won’t use drugs like marijuana. I have high standards because I know you’ll meet them and do what’s right.’“
Teachable moments can be a key element, he wrote: “They’re less threatening to the child and much more productive, says Levy. Talk about the front-page story about last night’s drug bust during breakfast. Listen for an applicable radio broadcast in the car, or point out a billboard advertising cigarettes or alcohol and segue into drugs. Seeing someone light up a joint in a movie or show is another great opportunity to ask what your teen thinks about it and whether it’s a problem at his school.”
Explaining the effects that the drug has on the brain can be a big part of that discussion, and many experts recommend incorporating that. But some teenagers may not take that topic to heart. In a story for CNN, Kelly Wallace featured Dr. Larry Wolk of Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment. Wolk said that research shows discussing marijuana’s effects on the brain is “like a turn-off.” Wolk advises framing it in terms of potential losses due to the drug:
“It’s taking kids along the track of, ‘Well, you’re putting in jeopardy your potential to do well in school or to graduate or to be successful once you get your driver’s license, because marijuana does impair you if you’re going to use it and drive, and it does impair you if you’re trying to study or you’re trying to do well in school or you’re trying to get a good job.’”
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